January 29, 2010
If you’ve ever watched a Professional Bull Riders event on television but have never attended one live, you would likely be amazed at all the stuff that happens in the arena that you don’t get to see on the tube. That was partially what we took away from attending our first PBR meet in Sacramento on Jan. 16.
As part of Roni’s Christmas gift, we picked up a pair of tickets to see the PBR cowboys do their thing at ARCO Arena. Normally the home court for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, the arena floor was covered in dirt and the sound of squeaky basketball sneakers was replaced by that of half-ton bulls rattling the sides of their pens as the 40-some riders were introduced to fireworks, thunderous music, and dancing laser lights while a white fog rose from the ground. It was a spectacle befitting a rock concert. Last year’s top five finishers in points got the equivalent of the red carpet treatment, being introduced while standing on podiums that towered above the arena floor. When they introduced Kody Lostroh the 2009 champion he was spotlighted on a stage whose perimeter was surrounded by smoke and flames. And to think that these guys have to do that every week until the season ends in October.
The arena was packed by the time the event started, but we arrived early enough that we were able to park close to the main entrance and check out the food and souvenir booths inside before the 6 p.m. showtime. We bought a program, then Glenn picked out a gray logo T-shirt. Roni was looking for a new sweatshirt and found one she liked. Then she decided that a bumper sticker with the PBR logo and a calendar featuring the top riders were also in order. Before we knew it, we’d spent almost as much on souvenirs as we had on the tickets themselves. But you only live once. We left ourselves enough cash to buy a hotdog and a couple of soft pretzels to tide us over while we watched the show. We found it curious that the one arena concession that sells hamburgers was closed. Perhaps they didn’t want to upset the bulls.
The PBR is sponsored by Ford, Dickies and Cooper Tires, among others, and those companies frequently run promotions at PBR events enabling fans to meet the riders. Roni was able to get autographs from and have her photo taken with three of them, and it was amazingly simple. Unlike NASCAR autograph sessions we have been to, where lines stretch out the door and around the block, the longest wait we endured was less than five minutes. Most of the bullriders are not household names and their careers tend to be short-lived. Plus the PBR does not have the audience reach of NASCAR or the NFL, so there’s more opportunity to get up close if you’re a fan.
The show itself lasted about three hours, the second and third rounds of a two-day meet. We had decent seats in the lower level with almost a front-on view of the action. The bulls and riders are sent out in five “flights” of about seven to nine riders each. The rules are pretty simple: stay on the bull for 8 seconds without committing a penalty and you get scored by the four judges, who also give a score to the bull. The rider scores and bull scores are then added together and divided in half to come up with an average for a “qualified ride.” It is possible to score 100 points, although most scores tend to range between 82 and 91 points. The judges can allow a re-ride at their discretion. A lot of the scoring seems to be subjective, based on the caliber of the bull and the rider’s particular skill at staying aboard. We saw no scores in the 90s the night we were there. In fact, there were no scores that high the entire weekend.
For an event the size of Sacramento, at the end of the second round the top 15 combined scores from both rounds qualify for the championship round. A draft is used as the riders pick in order which bull they will take on, with the leader getting the first pick. That would have been J.B. Mauney, who had no trouble selecting Troubador, a bull he’d ridden successfully in four previous attempts. Mauney, up to that point, had been having a great season and was the points leader coming into Sacramento. It was a curious sight watching the 15 finalists come limping and hobbling out to the arena for the draft, their bodies battered and bruised from months or years of tangling with bulls. We’d always thought football was a dangerous contact sport. Except that one’s head can easier resist the weight of a 300-pound lineman falling on it than a hoof stomp from a thousand-pound bull. Most of the PBR cowboys have injury reports that resemble criminal rap sheets.
In the end, a young Texan named Elliott Jacoby gave the ride of the night, but was erroneously scored by one of the judges and wound up losing the event to Mauney, who had an awful final ride, by half a point.
The crowd was enthusiastic but well behaved, the sport attracting a broad range of fans, many of them teenage girls. We were sitting in one of the quieter sections. But a couple of sections over they were hooting and hollering for every rider and announcement, prompting the PBR’s entertainer and master of ceremonies Flint Rasmussen to select one of them, a 13-year-old girl, as the “Fan of the Night.” Evidently this is something that is done at every event, and her friends were clearly envious. Ah, to be young.
Our trip to the PBR was an adventure in more ways than one, because it marked the first time Roni and Glenn had been out for a night on the town alone so far from home. Glenn had invited Ben to come along before the tickets were purchased, but he thought the idea of watching bulls sounded like a bunch of… well, bull. So he stayed at home to await the arrival of his Uncle Sean, who graciously agreed to spend an evening playing “Magic: The Gathering” with the lad following a grueling round of golf earlier in the day.
The nature of Sean’s visit was two-fold. In addition to spending some quality time with Ben, he had the task of transferring possession of this year’s Gehlke Bros. Football picks trophy to Glenn, who earlier this month won it back after four years of futility. The weather was wet and gloomy most of Sunday, so we all hung out in the living room watching NFL playoff games, updating our various online statuses, and playing cards and videogames.
We sometimes find it hard to believe (as well as a bit daunting) that Ben is rapidly closing in on adulthood, as it seems like only yesterday he was playing with toy trains and starting kindergarten. He’s been trying to become more independent, and we have gradually allowed him more opportunities to be so. The week before our PBR excursion found us in Sacramento again for the winter SacAnime event at the Radisson hotel, only this time it was Mom and Dad who were the party poopers; having experienced the human gridlock that is SacAnime twice in the past year, we decided it would be best to take a pass on it. But Ben desperately wanted to go. His friend Haleigh and her sisters were planning to go separately, so his plan was to meet them there.
We arrived at the hotel around 1 p.m. and dropped our costumed son off at the curb with the cell phone and enough cash to get him in the door and buy some souvenirs. But there was no sign of his friends. It turned out they hadn’t even left town by the time we’d already arrived, so he would be on his own for close to two hours amid the hordes of other cosplayers. It was verrrrrry hard for us to resist the temptation to wait with him to assure that everything went okay, but resist we did.
Our plan had been to head over to Old Town for a couple of hours until Ben called us to come pick him up from the show. But given the distance there and our uncertainty about Ben’s comfort level with his sudden independence, we decided it would be best to stick close by. So we drove a couple of miles to Arden Fair Mall and spent our time window shopping (mostly) and finding lunch. The mall was absolutely crammed, looking more like the day after Thanksgiving than two weeks after Christmas. We sometimes forget that Sacramento is a bustling city of more than 400,000 people these days, and apparently they all go shopping at the same place at the same time.
We made sure to get plenty of exercise walking both floors of the mall, because at the end we found ourselves standing in line at Cinnabon, where we bought a box of six large cinnamon rolls to take home. Okay, so only four of them actually made it home, but it was the thought that was important. We figured Ben would welcome them after spending all his cash of anime souvenirs rather than food, and we were right; he’d spent evey last penny, none of it on food. But he had a great time. His friends eventually did show up, but even before then he was interacting with the other show attendees and taking pictures of stuff on his Nintendo DSi. If you can’t find commonalities and make new friends at an anime convention then you just aren’t trying. We got back to Oakley much later than Roni had hoped, given that she was the one driving in the dark and fog, but we’d all had a great time.
Fog is one challenge this time of year, but lately we’ve had a spate of El Niño-inspired storms that have brought their own weather anomalies. On Jan. 23 there was a tornado warning for Oakley, Brentwood and Discovery Bay, which is mostly unheard of in these parts. A severe thunderstorm brought several convincing funnel clouds that unfortunately we didn’t get pictures of. The funnels didn’t touch down, but pictures we saw posted on various websites made them look like something you might find on the Kansas plains. Spooky.
We’ll settle for good old-fashioned rain, even if it does go on for days and days, as this most recent storm has done. Glenn, saddled with the nightly task of producing the newspaper’s coverage of the day’s weather-related events, has taken to calling it the Storm of the Decade. When the decade is less that a month old, you can get away with that. But we’ll be thankful for blue skies whenever they do return.
The other thing we’ll be thankful for is Glenn’s return to full health. He’s been taking his fluconazole for two months since leaving the hospital, and while it is hopefully preventing future relapses of his Valley Fever, it has been affecting him in other ways. He complains that the medicine causes his lips to chap, which his doctor assures him is one of the unfortunate normal side effects. He is coping by using plenty of lip balm. With four to 10 months remaining on his treatment we’ll probably single-handedly keep Vaseline in business. His cough is no worse than last month, but not much better either. He has lost nearly 15 pounds since coming home in November, which is frustrating to him not only because he’s on a different diet, but because he didn’t need to lose the weight to begin with.
At long last it appears we are about to get new neighbors. On Tuesday, Ben met the new owner of the house next door who said he would be moving in by the start of February. Indeed, his truck was parked in the driveway when Glenn got home from work that evening, and the front door was open and the lights were on inside. Considering the house was in foreclosure for nine months, it’s about time someone bought it. We just hope they are the same good, quiet neighbors that the folks on our opposite side are, and that we try to be ourselves.